New report shows the way to sustainable production of personal protective equipment

Personal protective equipment as gloves and mouth guard

The study resulted in a new report entitled “Innovation in PPE Manufacturing: Towards Circularity & Sustainability” presented at a conference 16 November.

Adopting circular economy approaches in agendas to fight against climate change have become even more important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with personal protective equipment (PPE) becoming an inseparable part of daily life.

This report takes stock of approaches that PPE manufacturers are taking to make their production more sustainable and achieve a true circular economy, while responding to COVID-19 PPE shortages, in terms of developing new circular-bio inputs, undertaking PPE waste management and recovery initiatives, extending PPE use life, and by providing PPE as service.

“The report prescribed five key areas for mobilising collective action towards sustainability and circularity in the PPE manufacturing sector,” said Rudrajeet Pal.

These are:

  • Creating demand for sustainable PPE through the establishment of procurement incentives and sustainable production criteria including materials development
  • Standardisation efforts for sustainable PPE development for both medical and non-medical use, particularly to harmonise among national and international standards
  • Mobilising finances and financial institutions to scale up proven solutions
  • Adopt integrated waste management systems by taking into consideration current regulatory frameworks and conventional systems for decontamination and other process stages
  • Need for joint actions and commitment by all stakeholders to overcome barriers to transition from small-scale innovation to widespread production and use of sustainable PPE.

Since the COVID-19 outbreak, the amount of plastic waste generated globally is 1.6 million tonnes per day. Furthermore, an estimated 3.4 billion single-use face masks and shields are being discarded every day. This unpredicted increase in plastic waste is happening at a time when countries are reluctant to recycle products because of the lack of complementary decontamination steps and coordination in waste management.

“The report provides a call to action to decision-makers in the public and private sectors that include governments, international standard setting bodies, health sector players, PPE manufacturers, and financial institutions etc. to come together to design, procure, manufacture, and use PPE that protects healthcare workers, the general public, and our planet earth”, Rudrajeet Pal continues.

A team made up of Rudrajeet Pal together with Sinem Demir Duru, Operations Officer, IFC, under the overall guidance of several other Senior Advisory members of the IFC Global Platform for Manufacturing, Agribusiness, & Services, prepared the report. 

The study is financed by International Financial Corporation (IFC)’s global advisory programme on Personal Protective Equipment - a part of IFC’s Global Manufacturing programme - in partnership with the UK Aid from the UK government.

IFC is a member of the World Bank Group.

 How is the work being disseminated?

“The full report is freely available online. In addition, the report and its key findings will be shared during the upcoming IFC Global Manufacturing Conference (16-17 November) at a “Meet the Experts: PPE” session, where I, together with Heikki Mattila, previously Visiting Professor at University of Borås, will present the key findings.”

What is the conference about and who is it for?

"The third IFC Global Manufacturing Conference will address the critical questions regarding Circular Economy and provide a dynamic forum for exploring the future of a wide range of manufacturing sectors. The conference will include executives and leaders from developed and emerging markets, from corporations, governments, lending organisations, NGOs, and think tanks."

What does this work offer to research in the area of textile value chain at University of Borås?

"This work adds immense value for our research in the area of Textile Value Chains in three concrete ways: This work included extensive data collection from several extra-large to innovative start-up PPE manufacturers from both developing and emerging markets, such as Ahlstrom-Munksjö, Lindström Group, Digimarc, Thai Tafetta, Thermaissance, just to name a few. This builds an excellent industry network and collaboration opportunity in future research and innovation projects."

"This initiates a long-standing collaboration with globally leading initiatives taken by IFC’s sustainable manufacturing programme (e.g. Better Work programme), which increases the outreach of our ongoing research, and more importantly recognising its international excellence."

"Finally, this involvement acknowledges our research positioning in terms of its societal impact in several key areas, such as in context to COVID-19 pandemic, industrial resilience, and global sustainability challenges."

Read more

“Innovation in Manufacturing Personal Protective Equipment: Toward Sustainability and Circularity” (Free to download)

More about the conference

Full speakers list

IFC's work in PPE production and uses

Rudrajeet Pal's research profile

TVCM Research Group